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Jack Bruce
(A Retrospective)

John Symon Asher Bruce was born in Lanarkshire, near Glasgow, on May 14, 1943. He was called Jack at a very early age by his family, and the nickname stuck.
In 1947 the family emigrated to Canada. They crossed the Atlantic in mid winter and Jack had vivid memories of seeing icebergs. Four year old Jack also took to
conducting the ship's dance band. He was given a chair to stand on, in order to be better seen by the band. It seems his musical career had begun!

They disembarked in New York and then took the train across the border into Canada, settling in a suburb of Weston, Ontario. Jack had fond memories of Canada.
"I loved the weather. It was either very hot or very cold. I can remember the snow ploughs pushing the snow up as high as the house in the winter, which was thrilling"!
But Jack's father, Charlie, was an outspoken union activist and communist. His political activities did not go unnoticed! His union activity got him fired from his job
and he had difficulty finding other long term employment. It is probably safe to assume that he was 'blacklisted'.
Soon, the money began to run out and Jack's mother, Betty, decided to return to Scotland. The family's 'Canadian dream' came to an abrupt end.

After completing his primary education Jack's father wanted him to enter the workforce, learn a trade and join a union. But Betty had other ideas.
Jack was sent to Bellahouston Academy. It was considered something of a 'posh' school but it had an excellent music program.
The Bruce's were a very musical family and Jack had already shown a gift for music.
One of his teachers at the Academy passed out a harmonica to every child, which he probably paid for out of his own pocket. Jack quickly outgrew the simple harmonica
and his parents bought him an expensive Hohner Chromatic, which allowed him to play all the notes of the chromatic scale in any key.

The school offered to teach their pupils any instrument they were interested in, however, there was a charge for certain instruments. The upright acoustic bass was free though.
Jack, no doubt aware that his parents struggled financially, expressed an interest in that instrument. There was a problem, however. Jack was simply too short to play it!
Jack was terribly disappointed, but one of his teachers suggested that he start with the cello, until he was tall enough to handle the bass. Jack's ability with the cello eventually
brought him a scholarship to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music!
At sixteen, Jack was already playing with a band six nights a week and bringing home more money than his father! As might be expected, this was something of a problem.
One day a small ad in Melody Maker caught Jack's eye. The Murray Campbell Band was looking for a bassist who was comfortable with Maynard Ferguson and Dizzie Gillespie
arrangements. Jack sent off a letter of application and was invited to audition for the job. This would be Jack's very first truly professional job and he was understandably nervous.
But Jack passed the audition with flying colours and was offered the job on the spot. After playing in Italy for almost a year he returned to London, only to be offered a job with
Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated.

At this time, Janet Godfrey was a fifteen year old schoolgirl. She and her friends would go to The Marquee Club every Thursday night.
"The place was always absolutely packed" she recalls. She became friends with Johnny Parker, who played piano with Blues Incorporated, though they were not 'romantically'
involved. One day, visiting Johnny's flat, she met Jack, who was 'crashing' there and sleeping on his couch. The two of them chatted away the afternoon and began dating soon after.

At about this time there would be an important shift in Jack's career. Charlie Watts left Blues Incorporated to join The Rolling Stones and Ginger Baker was recruited to replace him.
Jack had actually met Ginger earlier. One night he sat in for a brief set with The Bert Courtley Sextet and Ginger was on the drums.
"I was astounded by the music" Jack recalls. "I was especially amazed by Ginger. I had never heard a drummer play like that".
After Ginger joined Blues Incorporated he and Jack became close friends. Jack even moved into Ginger's flat for a time.
"I was very close to him. He was like an older brother to me" Jack says. He adds that he learned much from him, especially in terms of rhythm and tone. Graham Bond had also
joined Blues Incorporated and after a time he, Jack and Ginger would play as a trio during the breaks while the rest of the band were off having a beer and a cigarette.
Graham so enjoyed playing as a trio that he decided to leave Alexis and proffered Jack and Ginger's resignations, without even telling them! John McLaughlin joined them
and so was born the Graham Bond Quartet. But McLaughlin was soon dismissed and replaced by Dick Heckstall-Smith, and the name was changed to the Graham Bond Organision.


Ginger, Jack, Graham and Dick Hechstall-Smith.

Jack and Janet were married at the Hampstead registry office on September 26, 1964. Janet simply left school, much to her parent's dismay but at that time in her life she cared only
about Jack and the music scene. It was around this time too that Ginger decided to take over the running of the band. Graham was notoriously bad when it came to managing the
finances and Ginger, who had a wife and child, simply decided to take control of the matter. It's possible that Graham was relieved to be rid of the responsibility.

But Ginger had also come to dislike Jack's playing.
"I was experimenting, trying to take the bass in a melodic direction. Ginger thought that the bass should be in the background going plunky-plunk."
But Ginger, acting as manager, fired him. Jack reacted by refusing to leave. He just kept showing up for gigs, set up his amp, and played. Ginger tried to simply ignore him,
for a time. But finally, enraged, he threatened Jack with a knife. At that point, Jack thought it best to leave. There relationship would never again be what it had been before.

But Jack was too good to be without work for long. He joined John Mayall's Bluesbreakers for a brief time and then Manfred Mann, only to be reunited with Ginger in Cream.

Manfred Mann

Jack, playing his six string bass with Manfred Mann.

Ironically, the 'busy' playing that had led Ginger to fire Jack from the Graham Bond Organisation was what would become the hallmark of Cream.
Their extended solos and improvisation captured audiences the world over. Their influence was undeniable and led to a legion of imitators.


Eric, Ginger and Jack.

Following the breakup of Cream, Jack began a successful solo career. Over the years he has played with a veritable who's who of outstanding musicians. He even got together with
Ginger Baker for a number of concerts and short lived bands. But with fame, success and money came the excesses that so often accompany them. Jack struggled with drug and
alcohol abuse. Janet stood by him through thick and thin, but she was often left alone tending to their two boys, Jonas and Malcom.
When the boys were older they were enrolled in boarding school. Their parents found one that wasn't too far from home and which took both boys and girls. Jack thought that while
the boys were away at school Janet would be able to travel with him. But Janet had been hoping to further her interrupted education. She wanted to go to college.
Today, Janet looks back on her marriage, saying; "I adored him. He could be a pain, and there were some terrible things that went on but I was with him nonetheless. I didn't like it
but I just allowed these things to happen. I was tired and down with life, and with trying to help Jack all the time."


Janet, Jack, newborn Malcom and big brother Jonas.

Nearing the end of 1979 things began to change. Jack was touring across Europe. In October of that year the band played in Stuttgart and after the show Jack was taken to a
disco in the city. A tall young woman who was dancing caught his eye and he went out of his way to meet her. She was Margrit Seyffer, a member of a well-to-do family that ran
a print business. Jack described it as love at first sight.
It was the beginning of the end of their marriage. In early 1980 divorce proceedings were initiated. The divorce was finalized in 1982 and later that year, Jack married Margrit, who
became his manager for the next thirty-one years. (They had two daughters, Natascha and Kyla, and a son, Corin). Janet never re-married.

In 1997, Jack's firstborn son, Jonas, died from respiratory problems. Jo had been asthmatic since childhood and on the evening of October 8 he suffered a very severe asthma attack
at a friend's flat in London. He managed to get down the stairs to the front door but he wasn't able to open it. He collapsed in the hallway, where he was eventually found by another
resident. He was just twenty-eight years old. It was a sudden and tragic death, and Jack was crushed by his all to early passing.

Then, in 2003, Jack was diagnosed with cancer, and underwent a liver transplant. Although his immune system initially rejected the organ, he recovered and was able to participate
in a reunion of Cream two years later. Jack, Eric and Ginger played four sold-out shows at the Royal Albert Hall, and three at Madison Square Garden, New York.

To many, Jack is the greatest bassist of all time! It might be said that he did for the bass what Eric Clapton did for the guitar.

He will be missed! He will be remembered!




Steven Myatt's Biography 'Jack' was a valuable source of information for this essay